After a public outcry in Utah, the Trump administration backed down from the idea of bringing oil and gas drilling to one of the best-known biking trails in the world.
The Bureau of Land management said Friday it decided against selling the right to drill for oil and gas under the state's Slickrock Trail. Mountain bikers and off-road motorcyclists have come from around the world for more than a half-century to ride the rolling petrified sand dunes in this remote corner of southeast Utah.
“We understand that the public has concerns about two of the parcels that were considered during the internal review period,” BLM’s Moab field manager Nicollee Gaddis-Wyatt said. “After careful consideration and analysis over the last two months, those parcels will not be included in the proposed June oil and gas lease sale.”
The agency said last month it was considering leasing two parcels of land in the Sand Flats Recreation Area after they were nominated by an anonymous person or company for an auction scheduled for June.
But the potential sale prompted an outpouring of concern from elected officials in Grand County and its largest city, Moab, as well as from President Trump ally and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R), who worried about what pumpjacks and other oil infrastructure would do to the area's growing tourism economy.
“I'm super-duper grateful,” Emily Niehaus, the mayor of Moab, said of the BLM's decision to defer the parcels from the lease sale. “This is a relief for all of us who live and work in Moab.”
The leases would have covered two-thirds of the looping 10.5-mile trail. Any buyer would have had to drill horizontally for the oil and gas from nearby state and private land to diminish damage to the landscape. The agency said it takes seriously concerns about how energy development would have hurt the tourism industry in Moab, which also sits at the doorstep of Arches National Park.
“Recreation access is a priority of ours—as well as responsible energy development—and both provide important economic benefits to Utah,” said Brian Quigley, BLM acting manager for the southeast Utah district. “As a resident, recreator and manager of public lands in Moab, I understand the public’s concerns.”
Ashley Korenblat, who runs the Moab-based mountain biking outfitter Western Spirit Cycling, is glad to see the BLM changed its mind on Slickrock, but worries about the administration's plans to continue leasing lands at a rapid clip.
The Trump administration has leased millions of acres of federal land and waters in an effort to boost domestic energy production as part of its “energy dominance” agenda.
“It's a little bit like winning the battle but not the war,” Korenblat said. “If we leave the current system in place, it will happen again.”
— Climate change was the second most important issue for Nevada Democratic caucus-goers: A quarter of all those casting votes in the caucus this weekend said climate change was the biggest factor in their vote, according to results from an entrance poll conducted by Edison Media Research.
- Sanders won the climate vote: The entrance polls also found 28 percent of those who said climate change was their top issue supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who was declared the winner of Saturday’s caucuses, The Post's Scott Clement and Emily Guskin write. Sanders won this group by 12 percentage points.
- Only health care was a bigger issue: More than 4 in 10 said that was the issue that mattered most to them.
- Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire were also thinking about global warming at the polls:
- In Iowa, climate change was the second-most important issue among voters in recent caucuses, according to Edison Media Research.
- In New Hampshire, one-fourth of primary voters listed climate change as the issue that mattered the most.
- In short: “Climate change and the environment have emerged as a front-burner issue in early Democratic primary states this presidential election cycle, in ways difficult to fathom only a few years ago,” The Post's Brady Dennis reports.
— And nationwide, climate change is becoming a higher priority: A recent report from the Pew Research Center found a majority of Americans say tackling climate change should be a top priority for the president and for lawmakers. That’s the first time that has occurred in the two decades the survey has been conducted, the New York Times reports.
- But, the issue is growing more partisan, too: “[T]he surge in climate and environmental concern masks a deep partisan divide,” the Times adds. “Addressing climate change has become more urgent for Democrats in recent years, with 78 percent calling it a top policy priority in 2020. But Republicans have, by and large, remained unmoved. The partisan gap over climate change was the widest to date in 2020 and the most yawning among 18 issues covered by the survey. Protecting the environment, including air and water quality, was the second most divisive issue.”
— Ahead of Nevada, Buttigieg announced new public-lands plans: The former South Bend, Ind. mayor unveiled a proposal for managing public lands on Friday ahead of the caucus.
- The details: The plan, pitched as a way of tackling climate change, includes a pledge to protect and restore at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030. He also vows to reach net-zero emissions from public lands by the same year. As president, Buttigieg also says he will ban fossil fuel leases on federal land and waters.
- Why pitch this ahead of Nevada? It's a state where about 80 percent of the land is owned by the federal government.
— How conservative think tank is paying a German teen to question established climate science: The Heartland Institute, an influential libertarian think tank based in Chicago, believes it has found a foil to teen activist Greta Thunberg. Naomi Seibt is a 19-year-old German who, like Greta, is blond, eloquent and European. But Naomi denounces “climate alarmism,” calls climate consciousness ‘a despicably anti-human ideology,’ and has even deployed Greta’s now famous ‘How dare you?’ line to take on the mainstream German media,” The Post’s Desmond Butler and Juliet Eilperin report.
- Naomi’s rise: She headlined a Heartland forum at the U.N. climate conference in Madrid in December. James Taylor, director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center for Climate and Environmental Policy at the institute, called her a “fantastic voice for free markets and for climate realism.” This week, she is set to make her U.S. debut at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
- Why it matters: “If imitation is the highest form of flattery, Heartland’s tactics amount to an acknowledgment that Greta has touched a nerve, especially among teens and young adults,” Butler and Eilperin write.
— Democratic mail drop on Arctic development and drilling: Several Democratic lawmakers are on a letter-writing campaign to curb oil and gas drilling in the Alaskan Arctic.
- Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) led a letter from a group of lawmakers calling on major U.S. banks to stop funding oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. "As the world rapidly shifts towards clean energy sources, we are gravely concerned about the climate, financial, and reputational risks associated with pursuing a speculative fossil fuel source that will likely become uneconomical,” they wrote.
- And group of a dozen-and-a-half senators, led by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), sent a letter to 11 of the largest U.S. banks to similarly push them to halt financing any oil and gas activity in ANWR. “The scale of your banks' assets individually, let alone together, give you the ability to drive change in protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in shifting towards a U.S. financial sector that effectively analyzes and plans for climate risks,” the senators wrote.
- Finally Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) led a letter from a group of seven senators to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt criticizing the Trump administration plan that could increase development for areas within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. “The Reserve is one of the wildest remaining places in North America and sustains extraordinary fish and wildlife populations,” they wrote.
— Trump weighs in on controversial BLM relocation: During a campaign rally in Colorado late last week, Trump said the Bureau of Land Management’s move to relocate headquarters out of Washington and to Colorado Springs was part of a “historic regulatory reduction campaign” that is meant to end the “tyranny of Washington bureaucrats,” E&E News reports. He said the move happened in part “because we believe that the people who manage the lands of the great American West should live right here in the great American West.”
- Why it matters: Although it was a small part of his rally remarks, “his comments were noteworthy because Trump has rarely, if ever, publicly discussed his administration's reasoning behind relocating BLM's headquarters to Colorado, along with more than 200 other D.C.-based positions to state offices across the West,” according to E&E.
— As snowpacks shrink, the Colorado River's water is evaporating: Climate change has spurred the loss of more than a billion tons of water from this river. According to a pair of U.S. Geological Survey researchers, global warming-fueled declines in snowpack have caused water supplies for the vital river to evaporate, Eilperin reports.
- What's happening: “Less snow means less heat is reflected from the sun, creating a feedback loop known as the albedo effect,” she writes, noting the researchers assessed 960 areas in the Upper Colorado River Basin to determine how much snowpack declines were affecting the river’s annual flow.
- Why it matters: “The new findings are significant because about 40 million Americans living across the West depend on water from the Colorado River, which supports $1 trillion in economic activity each year. The water is shipped as far away as California’s Imperial Valley and central Arizona, where farmers use it to irrigate crops, as well as across the Rockies to supply drinking water for Colorado’s biggest cities.”
— Underwater, out of mind: Kentucky is being inundated by flooding. In the first two weeks of this month, “more than eight inches of water fell, causing the Cumberland and Kentucky Rivers to reach their highest levels in 40 years. More than 200 homes have been damaged, and nearly 100 more have been devastated. There have been more than 100 high-water rescues,” Silas House writes in this essay for the Atlantic. But House writes that many in America may be unaware, in part because the media has largely under-covered it.
- To quote: “Besides being irritating, the stereotype of rural people as inferior and separate has also allowed Americans to take the effects of climate change in this area less seriously, to let the devastation slip by unnoticed. By turning a blind eye to rural people, we are turning a blind eye to climate change,” House writes. “…. Imagine if the San Francisco Bay or the Hudson River burned for two days; images of the blaze would bombard us on 24-hour news channels, activists would march, and good people around the world would raise money to help those affected.”
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds hearings on the president’s proposed FY 2021 budget request for the Forest Service on Tuesday.
- The House Natural Resources Committee holds a legislative hearing on Wednesday.
- The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry holds a hearing on “Promoting Rural Economies and Healthy Forests” on Wednesday.
- The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment holds a hearing on “Proposals for a Water Resources Development Act of 2020” on Thursday.
— From The Post’s Tom Toles: Humans continue to find ways to backslide on climate